One of the things that sticks with me from my instrument training is the saying of my flight instructor Meredith, who taught me “each time you fly, fly like an airline pilot!” What she meant in that is follow the checklist, be procedural in how you approach aviation, follow the rules, and be methodical. This approach to flying, especially on instruments has meant a lot to me as I’ve developed my piloting skills.
The modern era of GPS and the iPad has opened up a new world of technology options for pilots in the cockpit. The development of GPS allows pilots to know with absolute certainty their positions on earth at any given moment. And the advent of services like XM Weather and ForeFlight Stratus open up a whole host of new options for seeing the weather in real time.
Yesterday, exactly one week after receiving my instrument rating, I filed an IFR flight plan from Gaithersburg to Lancaster, intending to give this “single pilot IFR” thing a try. It was a severe clear kind of day, so there wasn’t going to be any actual attitude instrument flying; instead, it was a chance to test out my ability to obtain, follow and understand clearances and other important elements of the instrument flight rules system. Plus, it was a great opportunity to take a solo flight under IFR – something you don’t get to do until after your instrument rating is complete.
A little more than a year after hearing the words, “you’re a pilot now”, I earned my instrument rating and thus the right to fly through the clouds, rain and other weather. I took my instrument airplane checkride with Robert (Bob) Gawler at Gaithersburg, and despite being the more difficult checkride, it was a worthwhile experience.
I postponed my instrument checkride yesterday.
Though I have the number of required hours, I don’t feel ready to take the checkride. It’s a hard thing to admit: not being ready, but it’s an important part of being a good pilot. I don’t want to take a checkride that I’m not prepared for any more than I want to take a flight that I am not certain will have a good outcome. It’s just not worth it.
The first and most important element of aircraft control under instrument flight conditions is trusting the instruments. Pilots who rely upon their own sensations are on a quick ride to their deaths. The instruments are the only reliable means of determining pitch, bank and yaw. Non-instrument rated pilots are often killed in instrument conditions largely based on their failure to follow their instruments, rather than their instincts.
I’m nearing the end of my formal instrument training, with only a half a dozen or so lessons remaining before I’ll be prepared to take a checkride. Much of the training has been uneventful and focused on making it possible to handle routine instrument flights: attitude instrument flying, instrument approaches, radio communications, flight planning and the like. Recently I’ve been working on the last major piece of the puzzle: emergency procedures and, specifically, partial panel procedures.
Last week, I had absolutely perfect flying weather and I decided that I would take a trip to visit a coworker in Raleigh, NC. Since FAR 61.65 (d)(1) requires any pilot applying for an instrument rating to have 50 hours of cross country time as pilot in command, it’s important for pilots to find every opportunity they can to accumulate cross country time. A round trip to Raleigh is 4 hours, offering plenty of opportunity to rack up some hours.